Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Location: NY Throughway Rest Area Near Schenectady, on the road at McDonald's

This might be the best McDonald's artwork I've ever seen! Here we have a tourist family chased up a tree by three bears - Mom, Dad, and Sis are on the lower branch, Junior is way up high on the left with a slingshot in his pocket. Papa bear is still trying to get them at the base of the tree, Mama bear is enjoying the Quarter Pounder she liberated from them, and Baby Bear is snuggled in Mama Bear's lap. For chubby people, the parents sure have skinny legs!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Niagara Falls

Location: Niagara Falls, American Side

We only had one day to spend at the Falls, and our plan was to see the U.S. side first, and then drive to Canada to see the other side. It almost worked -- we saw the American Falls and took a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist, but then we spent so much time waiting in line at customs that we were tired before we even set foot on Canadian soil. When we finally got across, we found out we'd have to fight a zillion other people for parking spots and our only real hope of seeing the falls on foot was to park way, way, far away and take a shuttle in -- but by then we were too tired to even consider that logistically challenging maneuver, so we just did a Canadian-falls-drive-by.

From the American side, you can see the wide American Falls and the smaller Bridal Veil Falls, on the near left in the photo below. Horseshoe Falls and Canada are in the distance:

It was blustery and chilly as we stood overlooking the American Falls -- the wind blew curtains of water off the falls, in some places making even seeing them a challenge. If that didn't get us wet enough, we decided to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist, the excursion boat that leaves from either side and sails to the foot of the Falls. To make the tourists feel like they won't be soaked, everyone is given a blue rain slicker -- and we started off nice and dry at the boarding dock:

We motored out into the channel, approximately on the border between the U.S. and Canada, and then past the American and Bridal Veil falls to our left:

We then moved into the middle of Horseshoe Falls, where the white mist of spray made the middle of the falls all but disappear. It was very much like being in a rainstorm except the water didn't just come from above -- it came from our sides too, and then the churning water below was added in to make it seem like we were in a high-pressure shower with scores of strangers who all inexplicably decided today to dress like Smurfs:

It was fun, but we sure ended up a lot wetter than we were when we started!


Location: Between Niagara Falls, NY and Rochester, NY

A recent day trip to Rochester found us standing on Ontario Beach, gazing out at Lake Ontario -- the last of the five Great Lakes for us to visit since we saw Lake Superior after crossing from Wisconsin into Michigan on June 30. And we found a real treat there -- the 1905 Dentzel Carousel, continuously in operation for 104 years.

Here is what their website has to say about the carousel:

The carousel was carved and created by the firm of G.A. Dentzel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was installed at Ontario Beach Park in 1905, and has remained in its original location, ever since. The carousel is a menagerie model and consists of 52 riding animals and two chariots, set in three rows. The hand-carved animals include: 22 Jumping Horses; 11 Standing Horses; 3 Cats; 1 Deer; 1 Giraffe; 1 Goat; 1 Lion; 2 Mules; 3 Ostriches; 3 Pigs; 3 Rabbits; and 1 Tiger. In 1984, the County initiated a complete restoration of the animals to their original condition. The carousel has also been modified to accommodate ADA accessibility.

Yes, we rode it -- and our choice of mount was those prancing pigs! They were just irresistible. John seemed to be having a wonderful time on his Trusty Steed Porcine Companion, until he realized, too late of course, what can happen to photos like these -- they wind up on blogs!


Ride 'em, Cowboy!

Friday, July 24, 2009


Before you read this blog you should read the previous blog by ZoAnn. Otherwise there is no reason for me to write this.

I owed Zoe big time! I had forced her at gun point to ride all over eastern Iowa and learn all about corn and corn starch and alcohol and pigs and breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches and cows and soy beans and all that Iowa stuff.

Now it was her turn! We were in Saginaw, MI, along with Lefty Frizzell and Paul Simon. This is Zoe's Early Years! Ground Zero - St. Luke's Hospital. I was born in St. Luke's Hospital - in Cedar Rapids, IA. Cepda Saginaw St. Luke's is now owned by anudder big hospital chain, but it "yustabee".

We went by her houses - the one she came home to after leaving what yustabee St. Luke's, and the one she really spent her pre-adult life in and sold after her parents were gone, and, I think, most proudly, the first house she ever owned. In all 3 cases, the thing that seemed to get noticed most was the foliage. "I yustabee able to jump over that 40-ft. tall catalpa tree. There yustabee a pickle patch in that corner of the yard. Remember? That's the photo of my dad and me when I was maybe 2.

We went by her schools, grade, junior and senior high "GO BEARCATS". They were still there - it seems that we last throw on the refuse pile the places we learned something.

We went by the plant her dad yusta work at. A few cars in the parking lot. It's a gigantic factory stretching for blocks. "What do they make here?" At the north entrance was a small sign that stated that this is a "power train" assembly plant for GM. The largest sign on the whole plant was a very large UAW banner hanging from the roof of the main building. I got this chill up my spine. Maybe the convicts ARE running the prison!!

I have to give her credit because she gave me a whole day of her life sitting in a VA Medical Center waiting for the system to catch up. But that's another blog - soon.

In short, we had a wonderful time seeing the bowling alley in which her Senior Prom was held; Frankenmuth, a wonderful little German tourist trap, just like the Amanas that I drug her through in Iowa; the "new" village library where one of her best friends now works as the feared and respected "Librarian" and even invited us to her home for a wonderful lasagna dinner and great "remembers". I wanted to go to the library to see if they had a yearbook from 19??, Zoe's HS graduation year. I have only seen photos of her when she was a baby, and I wanted to see something a little further down the line. The library had a copy of her class yearbook with all the pics and activities and old boyfriends and all those memories. Wow!!

I just flat gotta quit now. I'm gettin' all teary-eyed thinking about what a great time we had exploring the past. In the end, we decided that we grew up in the same place in different states.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Same Place, Different States

This used to be my playground
This used to be my childhood dream
This used to be the place I ran to
Whenever I was in need
Of a friend
Why did it have to end
And why do they always say
Don't look back...
-- Madonna, This Used To Be My Playground (from A League of their Own)

Location: A few months ago in Muscatine, IA. More recently, Bridgeport, MI

We have all heard that "you can't go home again." Over the years things decay, buildings grow or disappear, roads reroute and businesses come and go. Our memories fade, too. When we don't see the changes day to day, we sometimes can't even find familiar landmarks because they're cocooned within the fragments and sediments of time. What used to be our playground is lost forever, even if it's right in front of us.

But we still want to look.

John and I decided that we would visit each other's childhood homes as we'd be traveling reasonably near to them. First to his home in Muscatine, Iowa, and then to mine in Bridgeport, MI. I will tell you about Muscatine, and then John will tackle Bridgeport.

Muscatine sits right on the banks of the Mississippi River, just a stone's throw from Illinois and a straight shot east to Chicago. Almost 23,000 people live there, and a whole lot of them farm, and whole lot of the farmers grow corn, and a whole lot of the corn winds up at huge, enormous, conspicuous grain processing plants that turn that corn into alcohol. The alcohol finds its way to various makers of libations and spirits, stuff gets added to it, and eventually it ends up on the shelves of your local liquor store. The grain processors also produce corn starch, corn oil, and a lot of other "corny" products.

When John was 10, he and his family moved to this farmhouse in Muscatine:

His parents were not the owners of the farm, so John was able to get paying summer jobs there working as a farm hand -- and he discovered that he was MORE in shape going into fall's football season (playing for the mighty Muscatine Muskies) than he would be at the end of the season!

John may be a brilliant man, but he did do a couple grades twice. No, he didn't flunk any of them -- he went to a one-room school house for a while, and couldn't help hearing both years' classes for two years in a row. His school building has been recycled into the pig barn in this photo. Don't ask me exactly which building it is -- but it doesn't really matter, now does it?

I expected to be feigning interest for the sake of politeness when I saw Muscatine (and that John would feel the same in Bridgeport), but I found it interesting and compelling in ways I didn't expect. The farms and countryside, the midwesterness of of the towns, and even the songs of the birds and the greenness of the grass reminded me of my ex-home in Michigan. I told John, "We're from the same place, just different States."

His take on Bridgeport will be next.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Hi, y'all. I've had the responsibility of proofing Zoe's blogs now for about a year, and she's finally decided she can open the closet door and let me see a little sunshine. I'm going to use this opportunity to visit with you about one of my favorite subjects - pigs. Having grown up on a "hog farm", I kinda grew fond of pigs.

Now, you all know about the Three Little Pigs, Porky Pig, the little piggies who did various things to your toes, and, of course, Piglet from Poo Corner, but I want to discuss the Real Deal and the various ways to enjoy the little fella.

Hogs (piglets past puberty) have a relatively short lifespan before they are processed into the bottom of the food chain. To be technically correct, the little boy pigs make an early contribution in the form of Rocky Mountain Oysters, but that's for a whole other blog. Let's get down to the good stuff about the world's favorite meat source. You not only have your ham, your baby backs, your bacon (Hear that sizzle!), your chops, but you have your specialty items such as sausage, Spam, pig's feet, ears, skin, and, in some areas, the entire head. I'm not even going to go into all the areas of our lives pig parts show up in, but my favorites in my younger days were my "breathin' pigskin" Hushpuppies. Everything but the oink, they used to say, but no longer. Even the oink!

Right next door to our beautiful RV park in Birch Run, MI, sits a little retro diner called the "Oink Joint". We noticed it on the way into the park. Looked like fun, something to check out. Then we find out that it recently was one of the sets for an upcoming movie with Drew Barrymore called Whip It. OMG. It's like being at Mel's Diner for the making of American Graffiti!!! OMG! Like, we're somewhere famous! Like, OMG!!!

I think you get my point, but we had to check it out. Could it possibly be as good as Joensy's (see a previous Iowa blog on this channel)? Sadly, it wasn't, but only because the "Oink Joint" did not offer a "Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich". Zoe and I both had a BBQ pork sandwich, which we immediately agreed was plenty for the four of us. It was absolutely excellent! It had that wonderful smoked flavor, and it had not been drowned in some cheap BBQ sauce that finds a way to run down your arm and onto your shirt! And on the dinner menu was a full slab of ribs for under $12. Give it a try when you're in the area. Also hit Joensy's in Solon, Iowa for the biggest and best tenderloin in the state. I gave the Oink Joint manager such a big pitch on Joensy's and "tenderloin sandwiches" that maybe they'll have them on the menu when you show up.

And, please, no comments about shutting and locking the closet door!

I love this lifestyle,


Friday, July 17, 2009

New Guest Author For This Blog

John has just accepted my invitation to become a contributing author on this blog. Look for his postings in addition to mine -- his posts will show "Posted by Sundog06".

Welcome, John!

Captioning Contest Results and A New Contest: I've Been Working Out!

Location: Frankenmuth, MI

Your captions in the first captioning contest were fabulous! No way can I choose a winner, even though I hate contests where "everyone is a winner" -- my competitive nature wants a winner declared!

But John was a good sport about that one, so now it's my turn.

Give captioning this one a shot, but keep it clean! My caption would be "I've been working out!" so see if you can do better:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Say Ya to da Yup, eh?

Location: Upper Peninsula, MI

The Upper Peninsula is now in the rear view mirror, but here are a few last looks:

Snow levels in the Upper Peninsula. Really. The record is 390.4 inches in a season (1978-79), and the top of this gauge is what all those inches look like. The red tab about a third of the way down is last year's snowfall.

Pictured Rocks National Seashore: this tree is perched atop a pillar of rock, with its roots extending back to the mainland (you may need to enlarge the photo to see it). The tree gets ALL its nourishment from that strand of root. An old photo shows the arch of rock that was there as the tree grew, now caved in.

Tahquamenon Falls, the second (or third?) most voluminous falls east of the Mississippi River. The brown color comes from tannins leeched from tamarack trees.

John finds some relaxation in one of the best seats in the Calumet Theater, constructed in 1900 from the city's bulging treasury -- money that came from copper mining. Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz), Lon Chaney, Jr., Sarah Bernhardt, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, and John Philip Sousa all played here.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum is a sobering experience. It is also home to the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald.


The lift bridge between Houghton and Hancock, MI -- the blue middle section is raised when a tall ship needs to pass through (and yes, we did see it raise) and a "sign of the times" -- in July!


Mackinac Island -- the place where no cars are allowed (except emergency vehicles), so everyone walks, rides bikes or horses, and still manages to eat lots of fudge. One of the best of the old, elegant hotels is on Mackinac Island -- the 19th century's Grand Hotel. Five U.S. Presidents (Truman, Kennedy, Ford, H.W. Bush, and Clinton), Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain have all stayed here. Its long porch, claimed to be the largest in the world at 660 feet, overlooks the lake and is THE place to relax in white rocking chairs. Thomas Edison hosted his first phonograph demonstration on this porch.

Apparently, it's also THE place to get married -- this bride walked down the porch instead of down the aisle (the guests and wedding party are at the far end). A guide told us there is a two year wait to get married on the Island.


What did we learn in the U.P?

  • The Strawberry Festival isn't until July. That's probably when it is finally warm enough for them to ripen. Don't even ask about the corn.
  • Every mile of road has at least 4 snowmobile trails, 2 bait shops, and a place selling jam.
  • I love pasties, and John hates them. Pasties are meat/potato/rutabaga filled dough, formed into a half moon, and eaten by holding it in the hand (originally an easy meal for copper miners). It's pronounced past-tea, not paste-ee.
  • Grand prizes in local contests tend to be huge truckloads of fire wood.
  • John quickly learned to speak Yooper, ev'n betta den dem Yoopers, eh? And he spoke it to waitresses, gift shop workers, and da udder Yoopers whenever he could. No one challenged him. Yous dun gud dere, eh John!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Soo Locks.. and a Photo Captioning Contest!

Location: Soo Locks, Sault Ste. Marie, MI

Lake Huron is 21 feet lower than Lake Superior, which means that somehow the water must fall, tumble or otherwise be moved that distance. A series of rapids -- rapids that required boats to be portaged around them -- served that purpose until the Soo Locks were constructed in 1855.

How the locks work:

  • A boat or ship enters the locks when the water is at its level -- the lock is at the high (filled) state if the boat comes from Lake Superior, and at the low state if from Lake Huron. If the lock is at the wrong state for the boat coming in, the Lock Master must fill or empty the lock.
  • The gates behind the boat are closed forming a (relatively) water-tight enclosure.
  • Openings in the gates that are hidden beneath the water are opened. If the boat is to be raised, the Superior-side gate is opened, and the water rushes in to fill the lock to the level of Superior. If the boat is to be lowered, the Huron-side is opened, and the higher water within the lock drains out, lowering the boat. Other than opening and closing the gates and the hidden drains, no pumps or other mechanical devices are needed.
  • Once the boat is raised or lowered, the gate in front of the boat is opened, and it sails away.

We took a boat tour through the locks. Here are the pictures as we first traveled from Huron (lower) to Superior (higher). The first one is as we are entering the lock at the lowest water level, the second as we are floated higher, and the third as the gates are opening for us to enter Lake Superior:


On the way back, we entered the locks when the water was high, and descended as it was drained. The first is just as we are entering the lock, the second and third as we are descending, and the last is as the gates are opening for us to move into Lake Huron:


Now here's the promised Photo Caption Contest:

Just as we started to (very, very slowly) descend, I said to John, "Put your hands in the air like you're a daredevil on a roller coaster who refuses to hang on" -- and he did! I took the photo, but didn't count on the reaction of a bystander.

So what should the caption be? John suggested, "I hope I'm never this old!" Bragging rights only, but please give this photo the caption it deserves!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Quincy Mine

Location: Houghton-Hancock, MI

Three years before the 1849 gold rush in California, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan was having its own mining fervor -- but here it was copper that caused all the fuss. As it turns out, a flat, relatively thin layer of copper lies under the Keweenaw Peninsula (and extends under Lake Superior), but because it sits at a slant, mining shafts also needed to be slanted to mirror the vein. If they weren't, the added expense and effort to remove the overlying rock would have been prohibitive. Think of a square with a diagonal line through it. Drilling next to the line makes it much easier to get to the line than removing the triangular half of the square above it.

The shaft house, the gray building on the right in this photo, was the mine's entry point. It contained three types of cars that were lowered and raised on one of two tracks that descended at a steep angle underground: cars for removing the copper ore, man cars (rows of wooden benches) for lowering and raising the workers, and water cars, for removing water in flooded parts of the mine. Since there were three types of cars and only two tracks, huge cranes were in place to remove the unwanted car from the track and replace it with the needed one. The mechanism for lowering and raising the cars was in the red stone building on the left, the hoist building. The hoist cables threaded through pulleys on eight black support towers that ran between the buildings, two of which are still standing.

Within the hoist building sits a huge steam apparatus that would have made a mad scientist drool with envy. Running the hoist safely was a complicated task requiring communication between the two buildings. When ore was being removed from the mine, the cars were pulled to the top of the shaft house where an ingenious wheel design caused them to automatically tip to the outside, emptying the ore. Of course, if the hoist was pulling up a load of miners after their shift, emptying the car at the top of the shaft house would be quite inappropriate. So a telephone system was used to communicate between the shaft house and the hoist building in a way similar to party lines -- each different ring was a message indicating what type of car was on the hoist and whether it was safe to move it. The huge wheels at the top of the spiral staircase in this photo told the hoist operator where the cars were physically located in the shaft. Ore cars had to be replaced with man cars at the beginning and ending of each shift -- if a miner needed to return to the surface before the shift ended, he had to ride up in an ore car -- and hope that the communication system worked flawlessly so he wasn't pitched out with the ore.

The tour of the mine took us through not only the shaft house and the hoist building, but also into the 7th level of the mine. This level is as far down as one can go today as the remaining 85 levels are flooded. This shaft was originally 9260 feet in length, and was the deepest shaft on the deposit. The Quincy Mine operated from 1846 to 1945, and was known as "Old Reliable."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lunch, UP Style

Location: Paradise, MI

We stopped in a little cafe for lunch, and John ordered a cup of chili and an iced tea with lemon.

The chili came literally in a cup:

And this is how the iced tea with lemon was served:

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Coincidence? I think SO...

Location: A few days ago in Sayner, WI

Long story short, our plans to get to Michigan were postponed when we had to make a side trip to Nebraska to get the hitch fixed. Because we wound up changing plans, we found ourselves traveling through northern Wisconsin instead of going through the western-most part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. John realized that we would be very close to the summer residence of an old Muscatine High School (Iowa) buddy of his who he hasn't seen in years and years. So he called him, found out he and his wife would be home the night we'd be passing through, and arranged to park the RV in his driveway while their reunion took place.

We got parked, had dinner, and then Terry and his wife, Rebecca, showed us the remarkable restoration and refurbishing job they have done on their old lake-front house. As we were chatting and getting ready to retire to the RV, we were discussing our various RV trips and mentioned we had recently been tailgunners on a Tracks to Adventure trip to the Baja Peninsula. Becky said two of their friends from their winter retreat in Tucson, Tom and Ruth, just went on a trip to Baja. As coincidence would have it, Tom and Ruth were on our caravan.

So here we have an unexpected meeting of two high-school friends who happen to discover that they have mutual friends in Tucson, AZ. Tom and Ruth are the only people John and I know in Tucson, and to make it even odder, Tom and Ruth are almost the only people Terry and Becky know in Tucson.

Coincidence? Yes, but an odd one. I have to wonder how many connections like this we miss because we just don't say the magic words that will unlock those connections. Maybe 6 degrees of separation isn't so far fetched after all.

Tom and Ruth, if you are reading this, EVERYONE says, "Hi!"

Rest Area Treat

Location: Rest Area 8 miles south of L'Anse,MI

What usually happens when you pass hours of gorgeous scenery on the highway and finally get to a rest area so you can stop and enjoy it? The scenery is only in the rear view mirror, or is lost behind hills, or the rest area is closed.

But pull off in the rest area just south of L'Anse in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and you find the beginning of a short trail that leads to Canyon River and Gorge where the Sturgeon River tumbles over rock after rock until it plunges over a 30 foot wall to become Sturgeon Falls:

A lovely falls in what has to be one of the best rest areas ever.